After waking up to watch the sun rise over the Mediterranean Sea, eating a huge breakfast surrounded by men in town for the Delko Marseille-Provence bicycle race, and peeking at Sainte-Maxime's botanical gardens, we drove into the hills to the visitor center at the Hotellerie de la Sainte-Baume, from which we walked up a very steep couple of kilometers to the stunning Sainte-Baume grotto where Mary Magdalene reputedly lived and died after fleeing the Holy Land. We had a picnic in the park below the grotto before driving to the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, which claims Mary's bones. When we walked a bit around the town, we were surprised to find a New Age spiritual store with items devoted not only to the Catholic saints celebrated in the basilica but many other world religious traditions from Judaism to Buddhism, run by people who commiserated about the terrible US election and told us how worried they are about Marine Le Pen and the right-wing lunatics in France. From there, we drove to Cavaillon, which has a Jewish museum housed in the onetime synagogue that dates back centuries. Now we are in Avignon, where we have had excellent Italian-French food at the Ristorante del Arte!
This is the view from the balcony outside the grotto within the Massif de La Sainte-Baume to the town from which one begins the ascent.
It's not a long climb but it's very steep -- more so than Glastonbury Tor, which I thought was steep enough. Penitent medieval kings reportedly made the climb on their knees!
We stopped to drink at the source of Nans, the same spring that creates the pool inside the cave.
Once within the grotto, which is now a Franciscan monastery, it's all worth it!
The nearby town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume claims to have the skull and sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene in a reliquary excavated by Charles II of Provence, who had a dream showing him where to find her bones.
The bones are now in the crypt of the gorgeous basilica above it.
We visited Cavaillon, one of the oldest synagogues in the region, though these ornate upstairs rooms were rebuilt during the 18th century and restored during the 20th. The large hanging oil menorah can be turned into a hanukkiah with the addition of two lamps. Since Jews were not allowed to become architects, the building was designed and furnished by their Catholic neighbors, who interpreted the Prophet Elijah's ascent to heaven literally and gave him a chair near the ceiling.
The oldest part of the building, the women's room downstairs, contains the 15th century oven used to bake matzah as well as relics of the Jewish community of Cavaillon, including directions for the mikveh and tombstones removed in the World War II era from Jewish graves.